- Chris Stevenson
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They have come all this way, traversed the peaks and valleys of an NHL schedule, crossed a continent for the third time in five days, to get here, to this place where all of it comes down to just one more night of hockey.
One game for the thing many have waited most of their lives to attain. It is so big, so impossible to see or contemplate, the only possible way to approach it is to narrow the vision and the mind to something they both can handle, break it down into a more manageable size.
Just another game, right?
One game to decide if the Devils will lay claim to dynasty status or a reputation as a team that shrank from a chance for greatness. One game to decide if the Ducks will become one of the most unlikely first-time champions, a team unwanted by its owner and ignored by its fans for most of the season.
That is all part of what makes this one game so large to contemplate. The players cannot allow their minds to race in that direction.
"Sleeping. Eating. That'll be it," said Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur Sunday afternoon when asked what he'll do on the eve of the game. "I'll sleep well (Sunday) night. I don't know about my nap (Monday) afternoon."
Said Ducks goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere: "Excited would be the feeling that would describe my mood right now. I can't go any further than that."
"It's an emotionally draining journey," said Ducks forward Rob Niedermayer. "Both teams have fought hard. Both are dreaming of winning the Stanley Cup. This is what you did as a kid, pretended you were playing in a Game 7 on the pond growing up."
Part of what makes the speculation about which team might have an advantage going into Game 7 is the two clubs find themselves at this point having come from such different directions.
The Ducks have never been to the final and haven't had to play a Game 7 until now.
The Ducks are trying to win their first Stanley Cup in their 10th season in the NHL. The Devils are trying to win their third Stanley Cup in nine years, matching the Detroit Red Wings for the most since the end of the last true dynasty, that of the Edmonton Oilers in the late 1980s. They are trying to erase their loss in the final two years ago to the Avs.
The Devils are 11-1 at home in these playoffs, and both teams have held serve in this final.
Does it matter now?
"A lot can happen in a Game 7," said Brodeur. "It's hard to compare them. Each one has its own stories. I remember in 2001. It was a tough game. We lost 3-1. (Goaltender) Patrick (Roy) was solid. You get in a fight in one game; it doesn't matter how good you are. In one game, anybody can beat anybody."
For rookie Anaheim coach Mike Babcock, the challenge will be to keep a rein on emotion.
"This is something you dream about," he said. "It's Game 7. It's on the biggest stage in hockey. This is when you want to respond. What a great opportunity. The interesting thing for us here is we've emotionally been a disaster. Not that we don't have emotion. Keeping it under control has been the biggest challenge for us. It's been interesting too, because the veteran team that they have and amount of times they have been here, they've fluctuated in their play as well. Whoever holds court (Monday) is going to win. We would like that to be us."
Devils coach Pat Burns didn't like what he saw from some his players in Game 6 from a discipline standpoint, but said he could understand where his team's flareups originated.
It is another characteristic of a long series and something that cannot be allowed to be a factor in Game 7.
"You have to be at ice level to see it, to hear what's said as they go by our bench," he said. "The pokes behind the leg off the faceoff. We're going to have to play through those things."
Are the Ducks being cheap?
"No. It's hate," said Burns. "It's hate. It is normal. That's why you have these long series. As the series goes on, the teams start hating each other. That's it. That's competition. You're almost hoping that it's going to happen. ... We've seen each other every second night since the start of these series. Now the hate begins. It began actually a couple games ago.
"It's, 'You this, you that. Yeah, you, and this and that.' That's normal. That will all be there. If you were to end it in four, you probably wouldn't have seen it. Now you get into Game 5, a guy remembers what he did in Game 3 and Game 6, and then it continues and continues. I think there is a little hate there. That makes for good competition."
Ducks captain Paul Kariya preferred a different word.
"Hate is a strong word," he said. "This is a big-time competition. You go through games, a series like this, and there's going to be a lot more animosity than in a short series. It's what playoff hockey is all about."
But it is what a Game 7 cannot be about.
Too much is at stake.
"It all comes down to this," said Burns. "The last game possible of the year, the last game you can possibly play all year. It's Game 7. The guys know what has to be done. All the questions will be answered (Monday night)."
Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
Game 7. One game for the Stanley Cup. And the key to winning is to not think about it.